Wednesday, February 5, 2014

We should love an ending... But we don't

Thinking in terms of structure, the ending should be considered one of the best parts of a story. It's the payoff, the moment when all the strife and conflict our characters have had to endured finally comes to a head. We get to see the people they've become, the new versions of themselves crafted by the events they undertook. From the moment we begin a book, it's what everything is leading to, and really we should be excited when that moment finally arrives. Yet often times it's the moment many of us dread.

I speak from personal experience on this, of course. It took me two years before I worked up enough nerve to finish reading Y: The Last Man. And volumes eleven and twelve of DMZ are so far down on my reading pile, it'd be an actual chore just to get them out. Even though I'm very much looking forward to reading them, I'm just not ready for the final story from the war-zone that is New York City to be told. So instead, every time I go to pick up a new book to read, I'll opt for something where the stakes aren't as high as finality.

This isn't a phenomenon specific to book series either. How many other furious readers out there have gotten so wrapped up in a book they've felt the need to set it aside with just a few chapters left, let it sit there on their night stand, and come up with excuse after excuse to never finish it. Sometimes we may even purchase books we're so excited to read we don't start for fear of when we'll finish it (note Boxers and Saints and King City on the pile as well, I want/don't want to read them so badly).

There's an anxiety that comes with the end of a book, worrying whether the author will drop the ball on an ending and leave you disappointed. There are so many things that could go wrong with an ending (Let's be honest, there's nothing worse than when the writer throws in a poorly executed Deus Ex Machina just to tie things up). That chance the characters won't get the happy ending you think they deserve. Or even if they do, the knowledge that you'll be saying goodbye to these people you've let into your life once you turn the final page. It can be like watching your best friend pull away, knowing it's the last time you'll ever see them.

We want to go on these journeys with these characters, and never want them to end. It's why there will likely never be a final issue of Superman, or a last Babysitters Club book, or why - even after Doyle finished his last Sherlock Holmes story - his exploits continue to be told by countless other authors, even today. 

These are stories we connect with, characters we adopt into our lives. It's not something for which you can necessarily be blamed. After all, if the story doesn't end, then at least there's the potential for more. And sometimes that can be better than reaching the bittersweet parting we encounter upon the last page of a story.

Yet really all we're doing is denying ourselves the pleasure that comes from closure. A story isn't a story without an ending, even if it's only the point we exit the narrative. But when we do this, all we're doing is creating an artificial end that will never offer any of the closure we want. We have potential, potential that the story will go on, that there is so much more for the characters to do.  But that's all it will ever be, and it will never be the same as the real ending (good or bad). 

So in celebration of endings, I set out this week to uncover those last two volumes of DMZ and finally finish the story of Matty Roth and the Free States. And I'm inviting the rest of you furious readers out there to join in and finally finish that book you've been putting off for far too long.
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